Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, a Dayton landmark, serves as tribute to the city’s rich Greek history.
Chris Politz and Thomas Caroompas are believed to be the first Greeks to move to Dayton in 1880, less than two decades after the first Greek Orthodox Church was established in the United States in Galveston, Texas.
They were followed by Charles Zonars and Harry Chakeres and other young immigrants in 1903 seeking a new life and paving the way for a new community. By 1910, there were more than 15 Greek families in Dayton.
The new residents — bound together by language, customs and religious traditions — were devoted to worshipping together in the Orthodox tradition.
Traveling priests, paid by donations, held services in various downtown spaces before 65 Greek families were able to raise $5,000 in 1921 for a down payment on a one-story white wood Protestant church at 15 S. Robert Blvd.
Decades of growth within the community called for a home of their own. The congregation picked out 3½ acres of land overlooking the Great Miami River at 500 Belmonte Park North and purchased it for just over $34,000 in 1945.
More than 275 families attended a groundbreaking in 1948 for the church’s new hill top location. In the fall of 1951 the brick building with a copper dome officially opened before the interior was finished. It was completed in 1955.
A story in the Dayton Daily News written in 1964 described the setting and the design of the building.
“The church sits on a hill north of the Art Institute. Below are the rooftops of a modern city and inside the church the viewer can easily imagine himself transported back to the 15th century when church architecture reached a new magnificence with its blending of Easter splendor and Christian art.
Objects and paintings of breath-taking beauty adorn the church. Designed in the shape of a Greek cross it is of authentic Byzantine architecture and is unique in Dayton.”
That description, written more than 50 years ago, is still befitting today.
Parishioners worship in a nave filled with 54 painted icons detailed in 14 karat gold and illuminated by crystal chandeliers. Over 40 stained glass windows highlight the imported marble and plaster interior.
“The neat thing about it is it puts you in the right environment to pray,” Evanthia Valassiades of Kettering, a life-long member of the church, said in a 2016 interview. “When you come into our church you see the story of Christ, you hear the priest chanting and you hear the music from the choir. You can pray any place but when you are there it’s different. It lifts you up.”
Today, just days ahead of the 58th annual Greek Festival, almost 400 families attend the church considered to be the heart of Greek life.
“It’s our second family,” said Valassiades. “When kids move away we tell them, ‘Go find the Greek church — it will be almost like home. The traditions and the warmth are the same. It’s our second home.”
WANT TO GO?
What: The 60th annual Greek Festival
Where: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 500 Belmonte Park North.
Hours: Sept. 7 and 8, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sept. 9, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Free Friday Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that time and for the rest of the weekend admission is $2. Children 12 and under and active and retired military are free.